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The Best Sanders for Wood To Make a Perfect Finish

Updated: July 31, 2022
There are dozens of types of sanders, but most woodworkers use only a handful to build their projects. Learn what the best sanders for wood are and which are needed in your woodworking shop.
Best Sanders for Wood
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The Best Sanders for Wood To Make a Perfect Finish

The best sanders for wood projects will vary based on your project, budget and type of wood. However, there are a few sanders that every woodworker needs such as a random orbit sander and belt sander. 

In this article learn what wood sanders are best for basic to advanced woodworking projects:

  • Fast wood removal
  • Best for flat surfaces like breadboards
  • Sanders to remove scratches
  • Finish sanders for preparing to stain

And like all tools, you get what you pay for. So the old saying of buy once, cry once applies to sanders as much as it does to high-end table saws and other equipment.

Our Top Picks

Best all around:

Makita Random Orbit at Amazon 

Professional choice: 

FESTOOL 575026 at Amazon

Cordless Sander: 

Dewalt Cordless at Amazon

Best Large Surface Sander: 

JET16-32 Drum Sander at Amazon

Types of Wood Sanders

Types of Sanders

While woodworkers know about all of the various types of sanders, for those new to woodworking as a hobby might be surprised at the vast assortment of sanders. 

Fast Wood Removal

Almost all woodworking projects will require removing marks left by your thickness planer or leveling joints.

For this type of wood removal a low sanding grit paired with a sander made for rapid removal are best:

  • Drum sander
  • Belt sander
  • Disc sander 
  • Oscillating sander

Lastly, while a random orbit sander is best for finish sanding, on small projects it can perform rapid wood removal.

Finish Sanding

When finishing projects it is always best to gradually move to higher and higher grits of paper. And, this generally requires switching from more aggressive sanders to sanders like the following:

  • Palm sanders (1/4 sheet sander)
  • Orbital sander (1/2 sheet sander)
  • Random orbit sander
  • Mouse sanders
  • Block sander
  • Sanding pad

Best Sanders for Wood

Best Sanders for Wood - Festool Orbital Sander

As you likely know from purchasing other tools its best to start with tools that can be used over and over. 

And, like many do, purchase a brand name that offers both a warranty as well as a source of parts and service.

Not sure where to start? Most projects require at minimum a random orbital and palm sander.

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Orbital Sander - MAKITA

With a random orbital sander you’ll be able to use course grit sandpaper to remove large amounts of wood. And, then switch to finer (and finer) sanding discs to achieve a finish-ready surface.

A random orbit sander will quickly remove wood with available 24-grit hook-and-loop sanding discs. By use of a 10,000-RPM+ design the sander generates a fast cutting action that will smooth any planed surface quickly.

And to use, simply start with a low-grit sandpaper and move up to at least a 200+ grit for your finish pass.

Tip: Just be careful to not apply heavy pressure to the sander to avoid “swirl” in the finished wood.

Cordless Palm Sander - Dewalt

A palm sander is the perfect sander for putting the final polish on wood after a random orbit sander. And with fine-grit sandpaper this wood sander will prepare wood for stain.

Chances are you’ve used this sander in the past, but if not it works on a simple design of using a “quarter” sheet of sandpaper locked in it’s clamps. Due to it’s  design it’s best suited for putting a final pass on wood before applying finish.

Belt Sander - WEN

With a belt sander just about any wood surface can be quickly ground smooth. But sometimes too fast, so this sander is used to prepare wood for finish sanding.

With a belt sander I’ve sanded thousands of wood cabinet door panels flat after they were ran through a planer. While eventually I went to a drum sander, this sander is versatile in sanding everything from face frames, door panels, even fitting cabinets and filler strips to walls.

Due to it’s aggressive design a large platen (metal surface between wood and sander) is desired, but a professional 4×21″ is a handful. So for a DIY’er I recommend a 3×21″ that is more affordable and is less strain on your arms.

Cordless Palm Sander - Dewalt

Unless you have a huge woodworking budget odds are good you don’t own a high end helix planer. 

But if you are just starting out, the best investment for most woodworkers is a drum sander. 

Why? Well, this sander will:

  • Flatten anything you put through it PERFECTLY
  • Cutting boards? Don’t worry about chip-out on a planer. Feed your boards through with 24-grit and you’ll get a perfect finish.
  • Face frames for cabinets? A 22″ drum sander will handle them by simply reversing the frame and running it twice
  • Cabinet doors? Check.

Benchtop Sander

A power disc sander moves this list of best wood sanders into the specialty sanders. For intricate or small sanding tasks a disc sander provides precise control as you hold the wood, not the sander.

If your projects have a number of small pieces or you need to precisely sand the end grain of small sticks then this is a sander for you. Since you won’t need to hold the sander you can have precise control over the wood as you sand.

Sanding Sponge Sander

A sponge sander is often overlooked by woodworkers, but it’s a versatile sander you’ll use throughout your projects. From sanding raised panels to sealer on finish it’s a must have.

I have dozens of these on hand for cabinet making projects as they are cheap and I’m always running out. Due to their soft design they work great for getting into heard to reach places and bending to the profile of curved wood.

My favorite use of this sander? Sanding wood sealer before applying the final coats of finish.

Block Sander

A block sander is one of the few tools that just hasn’t evolved over the years. While chances are you own one, it’s invaluable for quickly taking edges off shelving or face frames.

So I turn to this sander every time I’m finish sanding a cabinet with face frames. Why? Well, I don’t want to use a pad or orbital sander inside the cabinet and often they don’t fit. Or I needlessly wreck a sanding disc tackling a job that this sanding block is honestly faster at.

Buying Guide for the Best Sanders for Wood

Choosing Between Cordless and Corded

With the batteries available now you’ll be able to choose cordless on a number of sanders. While convenient, there are a few considerations on choosing a cordless wood sander vs. a corded version.

Choose cordless if:

  • Your budget allows the extra cost
  • You own the battery line that supports your sander.
  • Portability of tools is a must

Plan for the Future

Remember your needs today may not be the same as tomorrow. For example, after completing that first piece of furniture you may keep building. 

So, here’s a few tips on what sanders you’ll want to consider as upgrades now (vs. replacing later):

  • No matter your project size, buy a top grade orbital sander now. Because they are cheap enough to be upgraded just buy the best now
  • Belt sanders are one of the seldom used tools but in two drastic cost categories. For most hobbyists an entry level belt sander is fine. However, if you plan to make cabinets and aren’t planning a drum sander than consider a top notch sander from Porter Cable or Makita.
  • While close to $1500-2000 with a dust collector but a drum sander is a necessity for any larger cabinet or furniture projects or plans. And if you are purchasing one consider spending the extra money now for a 22″ version. Just that extra 6″ gives you so much more versatility for larger cabinet doors.

Remember Dust Collection

If your sights are set on a drum sander remember you’ll need a dust collector to go with that. And, that’s not just a sander need as you’ll be able to connect it to your table saw, miter saw station, planer and many other tools.

Lastly, for smaller tools you can still consider a downdraft table like the Grizzly Downdraft Table Kit.

Frequently Asked Questions for the Best Sanders for Wood

Frequently Asked Questions

Is an orbital sander good for wood?

An orbital sander is one of my top three recommended sanders due to it’s versatility and wide range of grits.

What is the best sander to use for refurnishing furniture?

A combination of an orbital sander and a mouse sander that can reach into 90-degree corners is my preference.

Is an orbital sander better than a sheet sander?

Each sander is good at different tasks, but if I had my choice of one sander I would buy just an orbital sander due to it’s wide range of grits it can support.

Summary

While the best sanders for wood working might depend on your budget and projects there is always a combination of sanders for your budget. So remember your current and future plans when purchasing and avoid the costly mistake of having to upgrade too soon.

  • About the Author
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( Woodworker )

Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.

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Disclaimer: DIY projects can be dangerous, hire a professional (link to Home Advisor) if unsure.